US ban may offer China and India feast of cheap Venezuelan oil

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With Iran already crippled by U.S. sanctions, a drop in Venezuelan exports could squeeze global supply further.

The bearish sentiment appeared to outweigh the possibility that turmoil in Venezuela may lead to tighter global supply if the United States imposes sanctions on Venezuelan exports.

Brent crude oil futures were at $60.86 a barrel at 1215 GMT, down $0.23 or 0.38%. Brent has shed about 2.9% since the start of trade on Monday and is on track to post its first week of losses in four weeks.

The United States, the top importer of Venezuelan crude, is seeking to ensure that the OPEC member's oil revenue goes to opposition leader Juan Guaido, who swore himself in as interim president, and to cut off money from President Nicolas Maduro, a top U.S. official said on Thursday.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 51 cents to settle at $53.13 a barrel, a 0.97 percent gain. It was the sharpest year-on-year decline since October 2016.

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"The breakdown in diplomatic relations was interpreted as upping the possibility of a USA sanction on Venezuelan oil that would likely force United States refiners to seek alternative supplies at higher prices, hence the WTI gains", Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note.

But concern about the supply of heavy crudes is apparent in the USA physical market, where the price for Mars Sour, a medium crude, shot to its highest since early 2011.

Analysts have predicted a more balanced market due to a production cut pact by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russian Federation, as well as potential export disruptions in Venezuela, Iran and Libya.

Gasoline stocks rose for an eighth consecutive week in the week to January 18, by 4.1 million barrels to a record 259.6 million barrels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a weekly report on Thursday.

Demand may start to stutter because of a global economic slowdown, which is likely to dent fuel consumption. Persistent concerns about the US-China trade war as well as slower world growth forecasts have kept investors wary.

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